It’s apropos that For Greater Glory opens June 1, four days after the United States celebrated Memorial Day, when we honor the memory of those in the armed forces who gave their lives for freedom. Released by Arc Entertainment and directed by Dean Wright, For Greater Glory is based on the true story of the long-hidden 1920’s Cristero War in Mexico. Honoring the memory of those freedom fighters, this movie stars Andy Garcia, Oscar Isaac, Catalina Sandino Moreno, Santiago Cabrera, Eva Longoria, and Peter O’Toole.
In 1926, newly elected Mexican President Plutarco Calles, fearing the influence of the Church, passed a series of laws designed to crack down on religion. Priests and nuns, who were already denied the right to vote, were heavily fined simply for wearing church attire and were jailed merely for exercising their right to free speech or for criticizing the government in any way. Calles began exiling clergy and closing convents and religious schools across the nation. Suddenly, priests were on the run and citizens were left without church services in their communities.
Many people tried to force the government to change through peaceful means, via economic and political pressure. When Calles retaliated by attacking churches and killing priests, an army of guerillas were formed, calling themselves the Cristeros. Although they were passionate and well-armed, they did not have military experience or leadership.
The rebels asked Enrique Gorostieta, a retired general, to train and lead the army. Although he questioned his own faith, Gorostieta whole-heartedly believed in freedom of religion and agreed to lead the Cristeros. The rag-tag army became a force to reckon with, yet the country paid a heavy price for the three year war. Over 90,000 died and many people were martyred for their faith, including a young boy, Jose Luis Sanches del Rio.
For Greater Glory is a directorial debut for Dean Wright, who is known as a leading Hollywood effects guru on such blockbusters as Titanic, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and Chronicles of Narnia. Shot entirely in Mexico, with many of the scenes on the actual locations from the Cristeros War, Wright brings a gut-wrenching visual beauty to this film.
All the acting is strong. Garcia portrays Gorostieta as a dichotomy. He is a loving husband and father, but also a retired general whose daily life of running a soap factory leaves him feeling like a fish out of water; in the military camp and on the battlefield, however, he shows his true metal. Although her screen-time is small, Eva Longoria’s portrayal of Tulita Gorostieta honors military wives who desire to have their husbands safe at home, yet understand a soldier’s high calling. Peter O’Toole as Father Christopher proves once again why he is considered a legendary actor.
Other solid acting includes Oscar Isaac as the guerrilla, Victoriano ‘El Catorce’ Ramirez, Santiago Cabrere as Father Vega, Ruben Blades as President Plutarco Elias Calles, Bruce Greenwood as the American Ambassador Dwight Morrow, Nestor Carbonell as Mayor Picazo, Catalina Sandino Morena as Adriana, and Eduardo Verastegui as Anacleto Gonzalez Flores. Newcomer Mauricio Kuri does an amazing job as Jose Luis Sanchez del Rio, whose character arc goes from being a mischievous lad to becoming one of the war’s many martyrs.
But film is a trinity of visuals, acting, and script, and Michael Love’s script is stellar. He wove historic facts and people with lines that are powerful, such as:
“You live in your memories [and] you’re already dead.”
“Who are you if you don’t stand up for what you believe? There is no greater glory than to give your life for Christ.”
“We will fight with honor and dignity.”
“Men will fire bullets, but God decides where they land.”
“God allows us the freedom to choose. Some choose to use it for evil. But God can use the most horrific events and use it for good; like the Cross.”
For Greater Glory is an important film in several ways. It resurrects what was a hidden war; many of the actors and crew were native-born Mexican citizens; at a recent press junket, they stated they had not learned about the Cristeros War in school. It honors the memory of those who fought for freedom as well as those who gave the ultimate sacrifice. It reminds viewers that we should never take our rights for granted.
Running 143 minutes, For Greater Glory is rated R for “war violence and some disturbing images,” including scenes of torture and execution.